How to Protect Valuable Assets in Estate Planning

If you fail to take the necessary measures, you can lose your assets and property, which might cause financial challenges when you will not be working in retirement.

Legal Reader’s recent article entitled “How to Legally Protect Your Assets” says there are different strategies you can use to protect your personal assets.

This will help you to prepare for any eventuality. Let’s look at some of them:

A Family Trust. This may be one of the best strategies to protect your personal assets. A trust will help protect your assets when you lose all your money. A family trust can also provide tax benefits to family members in lower tax brackets. However, talk to an experienced estate planning attorney before setting up the trust to make the right decisions.

Start a Company. This may be an alternative to setting up a family trust, since your property will be more secure than when operating a sole proprietorship or a partnership business. This gives you a more secure future, even when you face financial challenges. However, there are many legalities in starting a company, so talk to an attorney.

Register Your Most Valuable Assets in the Name of the Low-risk Spouse. This tactic will make it difficult for a trustee or liquidator to gain access to the property in case of bankruptcy. However, ask an attorney to help you to structure the purchase to make certain that the low-risk partner’s name appears on the legal documents. An experienced estate planning attorney can also help you access benefits, such as Social Security and Medicaid.

These laws keep changing. You might miss an opportunity of getting long-term care planning, if you keep postponing a review with an experienced estate planning attorney.

As you spend your hard-earned cash, take some time to learn how to protect what you buy.  You should also use the legal strategies above to keep your property secure.

Reference: Legal Reader Jan. 26, 2022) “How to Legally Protect Your Assets” 

Will Moving to a New State Impact My Estate Planning?

Since the coronavirus pandemic hit the U.S., baby boomers have been speeding up their retirement plans. Many Americans have also been moving to new states. For retirees, the non-financial considerations often revolve around weather, proximity to grandchildren and access to quality healthcare and other services.

Forbes’ recent article entitled “Thinking of Retiring and Moving? Consider the Financial Implications First” provides some considerations for retirees who may set off on a move.

  1. Income tax rates. Before moving to a new state, you should know how much income you’re likely to be generating in retirement. It’s equally essential to understand what type of income you’re going to generate. Your income as well as the type of income you receive could significantly influence your economic health as a retiree, after you make your move. Before moving to a new state, look into the tax code of your prospective new state. Many states have flat income tax rates, such as Massachusetts at 5%. The states that have no income tax include Alaska, Florida, Nevada, Texas, Washington, South Dakota and Wyoming. Other states that don’t have flat income tax rates may be attractive or unattractive, based on your level of income. Another important consideration is the tax treatment of Social Security income, pension income and retirement plan income. Some states treat this income just like any other source of income, while others offer preferential treatment to the income that retirees typically enjoy.
  2. Housing costs. The cost of housing varies dramatically from state to state and from city to city, so understand how your housing costs are likely to change. You should also consider the cost of buying a home, maintenance costs, insurance and property taxes. Property taxes may vary by state and also by county. Insurance costs can also vary.
  3. Sales taxes. Some states (New Hampshire, Oregon, Montana, Delaware and Alaska) have no sales taxes. However, most states have a sales tax of some kind, which generally adds to the cost of living. California has the highest sales tax, currently at 7.5%, then comes Tennessee, Rhode Island, New Jersey, Mississippi and Indiana, each with a sales tax of 7%. Many other places also have a county sales tax and a city sales tax. You should also research those taxes.
  4. The state’s financial health. Examine the health of the state pension systems where you are thinking about moving. The states with the highest level of unfunded pension debts include Connecticut, Illinois, Alaska, New Jersey and Hawaii. They each have unfunded state pensions at a level of more than 20% of their state GDP. If you’re thinking about moving to one of those states, you’re more apt to see tax increases in the future because of the huge financial obligations of these states.
  5. The overall cost of living. Examine your budget to see the extent to which your annual living expenses might increase or decrease in your new location because food, healthcare and transportation costs can vary by location. If your costs are going to go up, that should be all right, provided you have the financial resources to fund a larger expense budget. Be sure that you’ve accounted for the differences before you move.
  6. Estate planning considerations. If this is going to be your last move, it’s likely that the laws of your new state will apply to your estate after you die. Many states don’t have an estate or gift tax, which means your estate and gifts will only be subject to federal tax laws. However, a number of states, such as Maryland and Iowa, have a state estate tax.

You should talk to an experienced estate planning attorney about the estate and gift tax implications of your move.

Reference: Forbes (Nov. 30, 2021) “Thinking of Retiring and Moving? Consider the Financial Implications First”

What Should Small Business Owners Know about Estate Planning?

Not having an estate plan can place business owners and entrepreneurs in jeopardy because they may face difficulties in keeping the business running, if they have to withdraw from the business at any point in time.

Legal Reader’s recent article entitled “What Small Business Owners Should Know about Doing Estate Planning” explains that estate planning is necessary to ensure business continuity. Think about who can take control when you’re no longer around to have the business continue according to your wishes contained in your estate plan. An experienced estate planning attorney can help business owners create a comprehensive estate plan, so things do not become chaotic for their family in the event of premature death or any permanent disability. Consider these steps when it comes to good estate planning for business owners.

Create an estate plan if you haven’t got one. A will is designed to detail your wishes about how you want the business to run and the manner of sharing your property at your death. A power of attorney allows an entrusted individual to undertake your business transactions and manage your finances, if you are incapacitated by injury or illness. A healthcare directive permits a trusted agent to make medical decisions on your behalf when you can’t do so yourself.

Plan for taxes. Tax planning is a major component of estate planning. Our tax laws keep changing frequently, so you have to stay in constant touch with your attorney to develop strategies for decreasing your tax liability, as well as creating a strategy for minimizing inheritance/estate taxes.

Buy life and disability insurance. Small business owners should think about purchasing life insurance, so their families can have a source of income after their death.

Create a succession plan. In addition to estate planning, a business owner should have a succession plan that specifies exactly how your company, and your family will prepare for a transition of ownership. The purpose of a well thought out succession plan is to keep the business operating or to take steps to sell it. This plan also includes the organizational structure of the business in case of maintaining business continuity.

Finally, you should keep everyone impacted by your decisions apprised of your estate plan and your business succession plan.

Reference: Legal Reader (Aug. 26, 2021) “What Small Business Owners Should Know about Doing Estate Planning”

Learn about Estate Planning in Your New State

Did you know that a lot of states—especially the ones that have a state income tax—actively challenge claims by former residents that they’ve moved out of state and changed their tax domicile. These states may try to use any connection a former resident maintains with them to justify their continuing to tax the former resident.

J.P. Morgan’s recent article entitled “Changing your state of residence” says to have your move  respected, you really have to move. Half-measures don’t cut it and could leave you open to claims by your former home state that it should still be able to tax you. Domicile for tax purposes is a matter of intent, and that intent is implied by your actions.

Changing your residence is a legal issue, so consider this checklist of items. There’s no bright-line rul., However, the more of these you can check off, the more likely it is that you’ll be deemed to have changed your residence for tax purposes.

  • Change your driver’s license to your new state and cancel your old state’s driver’s license.
  • Register your vehicles in your new state and notify your insurance company of the move.
  • Register to vote in your new state and cancel your old state’s voter registration.
  • Move your membership to a local house of worship in your new state and make local contributions.
  • Purchase a home in your new state and if possible, sell your home in your old state. If you can’t buy right away, rent with a long-term lease.
  • Claim a homestead exemption in your new state (if applicable), and relinquish any homestead claim in your old state.
  • Revise your estate planning documents (wills, trusts, powers of attorney, health care powers of attorney, advance care directives, etc.) to indicate your new state of residence with a local estate planning attorney.
  • Change your financial accounts to your new state and don’t keep accounts in your former state.
  • Get a library card in your new state.
  • Use local medical professionals and send your medical records to them.
  • Change your address with the IRS and list your new address on your returns; and
  • Focus your activity (economic, social, and financial) in your new state.

As a general rule, you want to stay out of your former state more than 183 days in each calendar year (this number may vary by state). Therefore, the closer you are to this tally, the more likely your former state will want you to prove that you were outside of that state for more than 183 days. You should keep a daily calendar (with receipts) that demonstrates you were outside your former state for each day. In the first year you claim non-resident status in your former state, you may be more likely to experience a residency audit than in future years, no matter how close you are to the threshold.  While you don’t have to be in your new state for more than 183 days, your former state will look at how many days you spent in your new state as a factor in determining if you have established residency in the new state.

Reference: J.P. Morgan (July 22, 2021) “Changing your state of residence”

Are Roth IRAs Smart for Estate Planning?

Think Advisor’s recent article entitled “Secure Act 2.0, Biden Tax Hike Plans Make Roth IRAs a Crucial Tool” says that Roth IRAs offer an great planning tool, and that the Secure Act 2.0 retirement bill (which is expected to pass) will create an even wider window for Roth IRA planning.

With President Biden’s proposed tax increases, it is wise to leverage Roth conversions and other strategies while tax rates are historically low—and the original Secure Act of 2019 made Roth IRAs particularly valuable for estate planning.

Roth Conversions and Low Tax Rates. Though tax rates for some individuals may increase under the Biden tax proposals, rates for 2021 are currently at historically low levels under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act passed at the end of 2017. This makes Roth IRA conversions attractive. You will pay less in taxes on the conversion of the same amount than you would have prior to the 2017 tax overhaul. It can be smart to make a conversion in an amount that will let you “fill up” your current federal tax bracket.

Reduce Future RMDs. The money in a Roth IRA is not subject to RMDs. Money contributed to a Roth IRA directly and money contributed to a Roth 401(k) and later rolled over to a Roth IRA can be allowed to grow beyond age 72 (when RMDs are currently required to start). For those who do not need the money and who prefer not to pay the taxes on RMDs, Roth IRAs have this flexibility. No RMD requirement also lets the Roth account to continue to grow tax-free, so this money can be passed on to a spouse or other beneficiaries at your death.

The Securing a Strong Retirement Act, known as the Secure Act 2.0, would gradually raise the age for RMDs to start to 75 by 2032. The first step would be effective January 1, 2022, moving the starting age to 73. If passed, this provision would provide extra time for Roth conversions and Roth contributions to help retirees permanently avoid RMDs.

Tax Diversification. Roth IRAs provide tax diversification. For those with a significant amount of their retirement assets in traditional IRA and 401(k) accounts, this can be an important planning tool as you approach retirement. The ability to withdraw funds on a tax-free basis from your Roth IRA can help provide tax planning options in the face of an uncertain future regarding tax rates.

Estate Planning and the Secure Act. Roth IRAs have long been a super estate planning vehicle because there is no RMD requirement. This lets the Roth assets continue to grow tax-free for the account holder’s beneficiaries. Moreover, this tax-free status has taken on another dimension with the inherited IRA rules under the Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement (Secure) Act. The legislation eliminates the stretch IRA for inherited IRAs for most non-spousal beneficiaries. As a result, these beneficiaries have to withdraw the entire amount in an inherited IRA within 10 years of inheriting the account. Inherited Roth IRAs are also subject to the 10-year rule, but the withdrawals can be made tax-free by account beneficiaries, if the original account owner had met the 5-year rule prior to his or her death. This makes a Roth IRA an ideal estate planning tool in situations where your beneficiaries are non-spouses who do not qualify as eligible designated beneficiaries.

Reference: Think Advisor (May 11, 2021) “Secure Act 2.0, Biden Tax Hike Plans Make Roth IRAs a Crucial Tool”

When Did You Last Review Beneficiary Designation Forms?

For many people, naming beneficiaries occurs when they first set up an account, and it’s rarely given much thought after that. The Street’s recent article entitled “Secure your IRA – Review Your Beneficiary Forms Now” says that many account holders aren’t aware of how important the beneficiary document is or what the consequences would be if the information is incorrect or is misplaced. Many people are also surprised to hear that wills don’t cover these accounts because they pass outside the will and are distributed pursuant to the beneficiary designation form.

If one of these accounts does not have a designated beneficiary, it may be paid to your estate. If so, the IRS says that the account has to be fully distributed within five years if the account owner passes before their required beginning date (April 1 of the year after they turn age 72). This may create a massive tax bill for your heirs.

Get a copy of your listed beneficiaries from every institution where you have your accounts, and don’t assume they have the correct information. Review the forms and make sure all beneficiaries are named and designated not just the primary beneficiary but secondary or contingent beneficiary. It is also important tomake certain that the form states clearly their percentage of the share and that it adds up to 100%. You should review these forms at any life change, like a marriage, divorce, birth or adoption of a child, or the death of a loved one.

Note that the SECURE Act changed the rules for anyone who dies after 2019. If you don’t heed these changes, it could result in 87% of your hard-earned money to go towards taxes. For retirement accounts that are inherited after December 31, 2019, there are new rules that necessitate review of beneficiary designations:

  1. The new law created multiple “classes” of beneficiaries, and each has its own set of complex distribution rules. Make sure you understand the definition of each class of beneficiary and the effect the new rules will have on your family.
  2. Some trusts that were named as beneficiaries of IRAs or retirement plans will no longer serve their original purpose. Ask an experienced estate planning attorney to review this.
  3. The stretch IRA has been eliminated for most non-spouse beneficiaries. As such, most non-spouse beneficiaries will need to “empty” the IRA or retirement account within 10 years and they can’t “stretch” out their distributions over their lifetimes. Failure to comply is a 50% penalty of the amount not distributed and taxes due.

For many, the beneficiary form is their most important estate planning document but the most overlooked.

Reference: The Street (Dec. 28, 2020) “Secure your IRA – Review Your Beneficiary Forms Now”

Why Is a Roth IRA a Perfect Supplement to Social Security?

The average monthly Social Security is a little more than $1,500. It wasn’t designed to sustain seniors without other income.

Tucson.com’s recent article entitled “3 Reasons a Roth IRA Is a Perfect Supplement to Social Security” reminds us that it’s important to line up some additional income streams outside of those benefits. A good one to look into is a Roth IRA, and here’s why.

  1. You’re able to fund a Roth IRA at any age. Many seniors choose to work in retirement, either to make some more money or to give themselves something to do with their free time. If you go this route, you’ll have the option to put those earnings into a Roth IRA. You can contribute to a Roth IRA at any age. Therefore, if you decide to work more for the purpose of alleviating boredom and don’t need your full paychecks to live on, you can save that money and allow it to enjoy tax-free growth.
  2. Withdrawals won’t trigger taxes on your Social Security benefits. If Social Security is your only source of retirement income, you’ll probably collect your benefits in full without being subject to federal taxes. However, if your earnings exceed a certain threshold, there are taxes on Social Security income. To determine whether you’ll have taxes on your Social Security benefits, you’ll need to calculate your provisional income (your non-Social Security income plus half of your yearly benefit). You could be taxed on up to 50% of your benefits if you earn between $25,000 and $34,000 as a single tax filer, or between $32,000 and $44,000 as a married couple filing a joint return. iI your provisional income goes beyond $34,000 as a single tax filer or $44,000 as a joint filer, you could be taxed on up to 85% of your benefits. Any Roth IRA withdrawals from that account won’t count toward your provisional income. That might also leave you with more money from Social Security.
  3. Flexibility. The Roth IRA is the one tax-advantaged retirement savings account that doesn’t have required minimum distributions, or RMDs. That allows you considerable flexibility with your money. You can let your account sit there, while your money enjoys tax-free growth. You can also leave some money to your heirs, if that’s something you can afford to do.

Plan on having access to some retirement income outside of Social Security. While that income doesn’t have to come from a Roth IRA, it pays to open one and contribute steadily during your career. A Roth IRA won’t give you an immediate tax break, but your contributions will be made with after-tax dollars. Therefore, the benefits you stand to gain in retirement more than make up for that.

Reference: Tucson.com (Oct. 5, 2020) “3 Reasons a Roth IRA Is a Perfect Supplement to Social Security”

Do I Qualify as an Eligible Designated Beneficiary under the SECURE Act?

An eligible designated beneficiary (EDB) is a person included in a unique classification of retirement account beneficiaries. A person may be classified as an EDB, if they are classified as fitting into one of five categories of individuals identified in the Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement (SECURE) Act. The bill passed in December 2019 and is effective for all inherited retirement accounts, as of the first of this year.

Investopedia’s recent article entitled “Eligible Designated Beneficiary” explains that these people get special treatment and greater flexibility to withdraw funds from their inherited accounts than other beneficiaries.

With the SECURE Act, there are now three types of beneficiaries. It is based on the individual’s connection to the original account owner, the beneficiary’s age, and his or her status as either an individual or a non-person entity. However, an EDB is always an individual. On the other hand, an EDB can’t be a trust, an estate, or a charity, which are considered not designated beneficiaries. There are five categories of individuals included in the EDB classification. These are detailed below.

In most instances, except for the exceptions below, an EDB must withdraw the balance from the inherited IRA account over the beneficiary’s life expectancy. There is optional special treatment allowed only for surviving spouses, which is explained below. When a minor child reaches the age of majority, he or she is no longer considered to be an EDB, and the 10-year rule concerning withdrawal requirements for a designated beneficiary applies.

Here are the five categories of EDBs.

Owner’s surviving spouse. Surviving spouses get special treatment, which lets them step into the shoes of the owner and withdraw the balance from the IRA over the original owner’s life expectancy. As another option, they can roll an inherited IRA into their own IRA and take withdrawals at the point when they’d normally take their own required minimum distributions (RMDs).

Owner’s minor child. A child who isn’t yet 18 can make withdrawals from an inherited retirement account using their own life expectancy. However, when he or she turns 18, the 10-year rule for designated beneficiaries (who aren’t EDBs) applies. At that point, the child would have until December 31 of the 10th year after their 18th birthday to withdraw all funds from the inherited retirement account. A deceased retirement account owner’s minor child can get an extension, up until age 26, for the start of the 10-year rule, if he or she is pursuing a specified course of education.

An individual who is disabled. The tax code says that an individual is considered to be disabled if he or she is “unable to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or to be of long continued and indefinite duration.” A disabled person who inherits a retirement account can use their own life expectancy to calculate RMDs.

An individual who is chronically ill. The tax code states that “the term ‘chronically ill individual’ means any individual who has been certified by a licensed healthcare practitioner as—

  • being unable to perform (without substantial assistance from another individual) at least two activities of daily living for a period of at least 90 days, due to a loss of functional capacity,
  • having a level of disability similar (as determined under regulations prescribed by the Secretary in consultation with the Secretary of Health and Human Services) to the level of disability described in clause (i), or
  • requiring substantial supervision to protect such individual from threats to health and safety due to severe cognitive impairment.”

A chronically ill individual who inherits a retirement account can use their own life expectancy to determine the RMDs.

Any other person who’s less than 10 years younger than the decedent. This is a catch-all that includes certain friends and siblings (depending on age), who are identified as beneficiaries of a retirement account. This also excludes most adult children (who aren’t disabled or chronically ill) from the five categories of EDBs. A person in this category who inherits a retirement account is permitted to use their own life expectancy to calculate RMDs.

Reference: Investopedia (June 25, 2020) “Eligible Designated Beneficiary” 

How Should I Take My Pension?

The number of pension plans decreased to just 46,700 in 2017, from 103,000 in 1975. At the same time, defined-contribution plans, such as the 401(k) grew to 662,800, from 207,700, says CNBC’s recent article entitled “Pandemic creates pension plan tension: Take the lump sum or trust lifetime payments.”

With so many companies trying to regain their financial footing in the coronavirus pandemic, a retiring employee’s decision to take either a lump sum or lifetime payments from their pension might end up in one simple question: whether they believe that the company will be able to meet its long-term commitments. It’s one of the primary considerations that employees have, when doing this kind of analysis.

A tricky part of making a decision about how to receive your pension benefits is that retirees typically like the idea of guaranteed income for life, which makes electing continuing payments more appealing than a lump sum.

If you want to stay on as a plan participant, make sure you have confidence in the company’s ability to make those future payments. While the federal Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC) would step in if the company failed to meet its obligations, it may pay only a portion of promised benefits.

If you’re thinking about a lump sum, due to fear of your employer folding or otherwise struggling to meet its pension obligations, know that the amount offered is usually less in comparison to the amount you’re promised to get, over time, if you were to stay in the plan. However, because interest rates are generally low, lump sum offers have been bigger than they’d be if rates were high. Consequently, when interest rates go up, the guaranteed-income option is higher, and the lump sums go down.

If you opt to remain in the pension plan rather than taking the lump sum, the amount you’ll get may be fixed for life, because pensions typically don’t have a cost-of-living adjustment. While some pensions offer spousal benefits (when you die, your spouse would continue getting a continuing, but reduced amount of your payments), there’s nothing left for heirs. Therefore, death ends the plan’s obligations to you, your family and your heirs.

Alternatively, if you take the lump sum, you might have some money remaining at the end of your life that could be left to non-spousal heirs.

Any decision should be made with regard for the rest of your financial plan. It is worth making certain you believe in the company’s long-term viability. The counsel of an experienced financial advisor should be sought when evaluating your options.

Reference: CNBC (June 8, 2020) “Pandemic creates pension plan tension: Take the lump sum or trust lifetime payments”